If Jason Chimera was depicted as a cartoon character, Tigger would probably be a good choice because, well, the wonderful thing about Chimmer is that he’s the only one.
“I think you should go to the local coffee shop and ask how many espresso shots he’s putting in his coffee each morning,” Capitals teammate Tom Wilson said recently. “That might be his secret.”
Whether it’s belting out classic R&B songs from the top of his lungs, shouting over teammates’ interviews, or tossing his skates at equipment managers as if it’s a circus act, Chimera has been bringing laughs to NHL locker rooms for 13 seasons. Tonight the 36-year-old left wing will be celebrating his 900th career NHL game when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Verizon Center.
“Wait, he’s 36? Really?” Capitals 24-year-old defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “I thought he was 32, 33 maybe. Wow!
“You see some of the shenanigans when you’re in here, but you should see what happens behind closed doors. He’s a character in every sense of the word and you need that in an 82-game season. He keeps things light and keeps guys on their toes.”
Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 28, 2009 in exchange for forward Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina, Chimera has played 438 of his 899 games in a Capitals uniform. And if you tack on another 237 games in the AHL, Chimera has played 1,136 games of pro hockey.
“I have a lot to be thankful for and I owe a lot to this game,” Chimera said. “At the start of my career I’d probably say, what are the chances? A fifth round draft pick playing 900 games is pretty special. It’s gone by so fast, too. You blink and you’re at 900. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment.”
At a time when most NHL players are checking their retirement accounts Chimera, who is in the final year of his contract, says he’d like to turn a strong season into a new deal with the Capitals, adding he has every intention of playing into his 40s.
“I don’t put an age on it,” he said. “I still feel my speed is there. I still need to prove myself to a lot of people and I’d love to do that. Age is just a number. If you’re still producing and doing good things out there you can play a long time.
“A lot of times guys get mentally checked out and they can’t handle the grind, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do. It’s a great job, with great people and a great place to be. Washington has treated me so well and it’s hard to think of being anywhere else.
“So many people have told me don’t stop playing. You listen to those guys. I talked to Mike Knuble and he said, ‘Hang on as long as you can.’ I aim to do that. Even at 40, I don’t say I have to stop then. If it comes it comes. But I don’t see myself stopping in the near future, that’s for sure.”
At the start of last season, there were questions over how long Chimera might remain in Washington. New coach Barry Trotz challenged him to channel his emotions on the ice and both admit there were some rocky moments.
“It started last year with understanding that you can’t let emotions play as much in the game with what happens to you or what happens to the team,” Trotz said. “Whether it’s me playing you lots or me not playing you a lot, I think he has a better understanding of the impact a veteran player can have on a team.
“When things are going good you obviously have lots of energy. When they’re not good you have to be a guy who deals with it correctly. I think he’s done a really good job and he’s in a better place. He’s got a better understanding of me and it shows in his game. He’s playing a bigger part on the penalty kill and the power play and his 5-on-5 play has been pretty solid.
“I think he’s got it down pat now. There’s a time to work and a time to play and don’t get them mixed up.”
Jay Beagle, who has been centering a checking line with Chimera on his left and Tom Wilson on his right, described the relationship between Chimera and Trotz was a learning procees.
“Maybe Chimmer and him butted heads a little bit in the beginning, which I think is a good thing,” Beagle said. “You want that. It lasted maybe two or three weeks where there was a little friction, but in the long run Chimmer gets on board every time and Trotzy has always been fair. Sometimes it just takes a little time to understand each other. They found their way and now they’re best of buds.”
Through 30 games, Chimera has seven goals, three of them on the power play, and eight assists while averaging 13:30 in ice time, up from the 12:56 he averaged last season when he finished with seven goals and 12 assists in 77 games.
“Sometimes people trust people at different stages,” Chimera said of his relationship with Trotz. “I’m a big believer that you’ve got to earn that trust and earn people’s respect. I’d like to do that with my play rather than talk about it.
“I want to prove it to myself and to other people that I could come back and have a better year. I’d like to keep it rolling, but more importantly we’re winning games and when you’re winning games it’s a fun place to be.”
At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, Chimera has given teams fits on both special teams this season, combining with Justin Williams to kill penalties, and parking himself in the crease on the Caps’ second power play unit. And at even strength, Chimera has been drawing the assignment of stopping some of the top lines in the NHL.
“The players he’s playing with complement him and he gives us a different look for our second unit, which should in the long run create more space for our first unit,” Caps goalie Braden Holtby said. “He’s catching a lot of teams on their heels and creating a lot of confusion on other teams’ penalty killing units.
“Plus, he keeps our team light, keeps it fun coming to the rink. The 82-game schedule doesn’t seem as long when you have guys keeping things fun and keeping you on your toes every day.”
Now that he’s hit 900 games, Chimera says it’s only natural for him to think about someday hitting the 1,000-game mark, an NHL milestone commemorated by the gift of a silver stick.
“The one person who can retire happy is the one who can get two silver things – a silver stick and a silver Cup,” Chimera said. “If you can say that at the end of your career it would be a huge feather in your cap.
“If you go without those things I think you’d look back and always ask what if? I don’t want to have those what ifs. And there’s a good chance for both of those things to happen here. That’s the greatest thing about this team. I want those both to happen here.”